It'll never make it to the mentions of a high school class, and just skimmed over for a university history class on Prussian-German affairs....but the Saverne Affair (sometimes called by the Germans: Zabern-Affäre)....is one of the triggers to WW I. It's generally misunderstood....for the reasons that will be apparent in my blog.
Alsace-Lorraine is this region of Germany....on the western side of Prussia, and the annexed area from the last big war between Prussia and France. It's value? It's a significant coal area....but Prussia already has plenty of coal fields. It's agriculture? It's got plenty of farms over the rest of Germany. So this marginal state....roughly ten to fifteen percent the size of Alabama....is more or less a "reward" or "gift" from the war.
Yeah, it's hard to imagine that mentality....but remember....it's not really political figures running Prussia....it's the Kaiser, his Prussian military, and his favorite political figures who rank within the sacred circle.
For several decades....Alsace-Lorraine has been this "bad-step-child" of Prussia and generally regarded in today's environment as a little-Mexico within Germany's borders. The general description that some Prussians might use or the press media of the time might use.....would be insulting to some degree.
The residents of Alsace-Lorraine? They flow back and forth between German and French. Maybe, that's a bad idea....but this is the late 1800s and beginning of the 1900s.....and it's an acceptable thing.
So, imagine this military post in the middle of this small state....two battalions stationed there....an older Prussian military officer in charge, with some young maverick Prussian junior officers running the enlisted guys.
The maverick Prussian junior officers? There's some education....some university training perhaps....and a push on pro-Prussian attitudes. This all comes back to relate to a anti-Alsace-Lorraine attitude.
So, in the fall of 1913....there's this young junior officer....a young (19 years old) Second Lieutenant....Günter Freiherr von Forstner. The lieutenant issues out some insults, with one tied to "Wackes"....which is a fairly negative slang word for Alsace-Lorraine locals. There's some comments to his troops, and all fairly negative....which get back to the local newspaper. Sadly, the newspaper prints the comments. This all occurs in late October of 1913.
In Prussia, this would have been stopped or forbidden (reporting at least)....so the local press took some privileges to heart that you wouldn't expect.
Naturally, trouble brews out of this.
Locals want the Lieutenant gone. The old Prussian colonel in charge....won't dare do something like this....so he simply draws up a note....six days of barracks arrest. Basically, an old-fashioned time-out....for the young lieutenant. Naturally....other than the colonel and the lieutenant.....no one really knows about this barracks arrest deal. You can imagine the outcome of this 'secret'.
The locals go into a frustrating reaction, and it's all negative for the Prussian army unit from this point on. The commander calls up the local political figures and directs them to quiet down their folks and just act normal.
By late November....this mess has gotten to a point where problems are about to occur. Another Second Lieutenant now walks into a bigger mess. This time....a lieutenant by the name of Schadt is in charge of the post sentries....who are now confronted on one afternoon by a local crowd.....still angry from the original episode.
Schadt, directs his guards to bear arms toward the threatening Alsace crowd....demanding they go home. Several orders are directed...nothing happens. So, the sentries start driving the crowd across an open area, and taking prisoners. Sadly, this is in a street area....and several ranking "Wackes" of political significance (imagine the timing of this)....are just walking out of the local government building and get rounded by Lieutenant Schadt's crew. This locals all end up in some basement room for the evening as their punishment, and there is vast hostility brewing in the morning as the political bigwigs are released.
The local town goes into turbo.....with the troops now reacting and showing machine guns in defensive positions.
The whole story is now getting out, and making the press of Germany active.
The Kaiser (Wilhelm II) shows no real interest as the first stories come out, and appears to just let it go (a big mistake).
Days pass. For some reason, a military parade of sorts is held. No one really explains the necessity of this....other than perhaps showing strength against the locals. This first military officer who'd triggered the start-up of this mess...Forstner....is in the middle of this parade or event....in a fine dressed uniform.
For some reason, a local shoemaker is engaged in watching this unfold, notes the finely dressed Prussian junior officer (Forstner), and starts laughing. This gets the crowd to going, and they laugh. Forstner, noting who started this....walks up and uses his sword (the saber), with the grip end....and knocks the shoemaker in the head several times. What is generally said by witnesses to the scene (you just can't be sure of nothing related to this).....is that the shoemaker was woefully unprepared, and really in bad shape at the end of this whooping.
You can guess the reaction now of the locals......they went nuts.
The military now tries to clean this up.....giving Lieutenant Forstner roughly six weeks in the brig. This punishment makes the locals happy, but apparently blows up in Berlin....where they send word that this won't be accepted. So the six weeks of jail-time is tossed out....entirely.
At this point, the national press steps in and really starts to talk about the unfair nature that Prussian officers have over laws and civilians. It's not an Alsace-Lorraine thing anymore....it's a nation-wide problem.
NOW....the Kaiser begins to understand the big mess approaching. The public is figuring out the whole lack of respect for law, and how the military is not in their favor.
All of this comes to Berlin in December of 1913, and triggers a confidence vote for the Chancellor (the Kaiser's personal go-to guy). It's the first real occasion that the Kaiser has been slammed and has to clean this up.
By early January, it's decided to run up another court episode....this time with the old colonel from the Alsace post (Colonel von Reuter) and with this Second Lieutenant Schadt. Charges? Well....the best that they can get is unlawful appropriating authority from the civilian police. This charge however....is eventually thrown out because there is some clause in Prussian law....which dictates....from 1820....that Prussian military members may act to save civil peace if required. The Kaiser sat there....reacting to this....and awarded the colonel a medal. Yeah, as silly as it sounds....he actually gave out a medal.
Yeah, it really turned up the heat on this whole mess. It only took a week for the Bundestag to determine that they had to fix this in a hurry. So a rule was created.....that kinda forbid Prussian-German military officers from directing weapons to be used on any German population or crowd. This takes roughly eight weeks to write up the actual verbiage and get the Kaiser into the right frame of mind to sign it.
The Kaiser's order? Well....it actually stayed in effect, until 1936....when the Nazis decided it was a stupid law, and that they could find just reason to pull weapons on citizens of the country. Yeah, that's a small bit of history that you won't hear about.
So, the newspapers simmer on this whole thing around April and May.....but around the whole country....no one has accepted the Kaiser's methods or directions in a supportive way.
What you have....is a society that brewing hostility over the Prussian military style leadership, and the Kaiser's inept leadership.
In a way....war would be helpful....to get everyone lined up and supportive of the great Prussian-German military, and the Kaiser. Sad to say....but that's the way that things turned out.
The Saverne Affair? Rarely told, but it's a soap opera of an event....over stupid junior officers, racial comments spoken out of hand, and armed military threatening to kill civilians. Something less than democracy....if you think about.